Sunday, 29 April 2007

Children's games

Pieter Bruegehl, Children's Games

It is impossible to venture out on the streets of Altdorf without being overrun by children. When I say children it is with the greatest of constraint that I chose such a benevolent word. Brats, racals, even criminals often seem a better word for them, and much better reflects their activities. Even though many children in our fair city begin working at an early age, often helping their parents out with various and sundry tasks, there are many, many who have nothing better to do than spend their time playing on the streets with their various toys.

Of these, wooden weapons seems the most common among the boys. Swords and shields are swung at unprotected heads, or indeed even at the knees of innocent passers-by, in furious battles enacting the war against Chaos. I have also observed a not insignificant group with painted tin soldiers, or troops whittled out of wood. They meet in parks and in public squares all over the city to fight out imaginary battles between the armies of the Empire and the forces of Chaos. A worrying amount of the boys involved in these different war games thoroughly enjoy playing Chaos warriors, and some even run bellowing around Altdorf, scaring women and babies, and panicking horses and cattle! A right nuisance, if you ask me!

And speaking of nuisances, the children of Altdorf seem to have made it their holy mission to remind the rest of the world of their existance; for this they use infernal rattles, pipes, bells, drums or whistles, even horns or trumpets stolen from some unfortunate coach driver add to the cacaphony of sounds of everyday life. Some foolish adults even pay children to come and scare off the ill influences of sickness and disease with their instruments of torture to the ear and sensibilities of educated people! The practice of making this noise seems to be most popular among the girls, for some reason.

Apart from the toys mentioned, the children of Altdorf play with balls made from cloth and inflated pigs’ bladders, playing games that involves much kicking and screaming. They also excel at the game called Nine Kings, where you use a ball to knock over as many of nine pins placed in varying patterns as possible in two tries. Very popular in the more affluent parts of our capital. In the poorer parts of Altdorf the children play with marbles, so called even though they are commonly made from stone or scrap glass or metal.

Adolphus Altdorfer
Bezahltag, Sigmarzeit 33, 2522 IC

While doing some quick research for this piece, I came across the painting Children's Games by Pieter Bruegel. This paints a much better picture of what an ordinary day in Altdorf can look like, so right-click the image above and save it to disk. Then open it in an image viewer of your choice and take a closer look. It is well worth the extra effort!


Friday, 27 April 2007

The Marble Baths

Altdorf is a grimy city, filled with waste and filth. But even so many of its inhabitants take great care to stay clean and bathe once every week. The manner in which they do so varies with social stature and income, but there is a sizeable portion that go to the public bathing houses that exist in the various Bezirks of our capital. Of course som baths are more splendid than others. Most common folk, the poor and the workers, simply use a barrel to scope cold water from, apply soap to strategic bodily locations, wash it off and rub themselves with rough towels to get dry. Not something you do every day, mind you.

For the upper class or for those of means, there are bath-houses where you get heated water in tubs or in pools. Some have rooms filled with heated rocks which you throw water on, creating steam to clean your body. Some rooms have cold pools of water so that you can alternate between hot and cool baths. There are also lounges where you can rest, eat a sausage or pie and drink a glass of wine or a flagon of cold beer.

For clients who can afford it, herbs or oils produced locally or imported from Estalia, Tilea or even Araby are added to the water to release a pleasing fragrance and promote good health and cleansing of the skin and lungs. Among the herbs commonly used are camomile, lavender, lemon balm, mint, rosemary and thyme. Oils are often scented with sap from birch or pine, or from the skins or peels from oranges, lemons, apples and pears.

Of all the bathing houses in the Empire, The Marble Baths in the Reikhoch Bezirk is probably the most well-known. The interiors are constructed from exquisite marble in Arabyan style, with beautiful mosaics depicting flowers, planets and stars. There are two sections, one for the men and one for the women. The bathers dress in simple linen trunks or dresses for the women. Curiosly both sexes often dress in something known as an Altdorf Wig, a kind of bathing hat of varying lavishness. Female bath-house keepers, often devout Shallyans in sleeveless dresses serve the bathers with buckets of hot or cold water and scrubs or lashes in the case of the more devout attendees.

Adolphus Altdorfer

Backertag, Sigmarzeit 24, 2522 IC

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Sayings, words and expressions (1)

The language of the Altdorf population is colourful, and often refers to commonly known events in the capital. Some of them bewilder me, some are quite simple to understand. I have come across quite a number of these sayings and have compiled a short list of some of them, and their meanings as far as I have divined them.

"Up the Reik without a barge" - In deep trouble, often abbreviated "Up the Reik."

"Short crowd" - A gathering of angry people with no power. They don't pose a threat, much like a bunch of halflings wouldn't (they would make up a short crowd, hence the expression).

"Carstein Cattle" - inhabitants of Sylvania.

"Drunk as a map-maker" - derived from the fact that many maps of the Empire often are faulty and inconsistent, hence they are probable made by drunken map-makers.

"Moose-head" - norse raider. Refers to the helmets often worn by the Norscan warriors.

"Tybalt handshake" - a weak handshake, derived from the fact that chancellor Mornan Tybalt had his thumb clipped by rioters during a riot some years ago, in protest of his proposed labour tax.

"Altdorf party" - a riot.

"He's riding the griffon" - someone is boasting, greatly exaggerating his prowess (often "romantic" prowess or combat skills). Could also mean that a person is mad, or hallucinating. Derived from the legends about The Emperor riding a griffon.

"Mad as Alfred" - Describes a person out of his mind, insane or just very, very different. Derived from Altdorf's most famous and loved madman, called Mad Alfred. I'll give you more details on this fascinating person in later writings.

"There's no such thing as a free pie" - nothing in the Old World is free, everything has its price. You'll never get anything for nothing. Also "a deal to good to be true".

"A private war" - someone's own personal business. "Well, it's his private war, there's nothing we can do to help".

"Airhead" or "Cloudhead" - derisive term for Wizard, implying that they have their heads stuck in the clouds and consider themselves above mere mortals. Not used when a wizard is around, I gather.

"A Bergsburg deal" - a deal or offering that is on and off, depending on the whims of the people making the offering. Refers to the disputed status of the town of Bergsburg among the Imperial cartographers.

There are many more sayings like this, and I hope to document more as I spend more time talking to the people of Altdorf.

Adolphus Altdorfer
Konistag, Sigmarzeit 18, 2522 IC

Check out this link to the Black Industries forums, where Happy Gibbon started a fantastic thread about the sayings of the people of the Empire. The above list is my contribution, and you'll find many more from Happy Gibbon as well as other contributors.


Sunday, 22 April 2007

Gossip (5)

"Haven't you heard? The Emperor is going to Middenheim to fight the Storm of Chaos! Only he can stem the tide of evil, they say! But you know what that means, don't you? Yeah ... that'll leave Altdorf wide open to people like Fengsel and Waffenkammer!"

- Two soldiers sharing a flagon of Altdorfer Weisse at The Breasts of Myrmidia tavern, in the Niederhafen Bezirk

Few things have as much potential for trouble and therefore adventure as a sudden power vacuum. If for example the Emperor would leave Altdorf there would be many nobles and influential people trying to profit from his absence. Given the fact that communications are fairly slow and unreliable in the Old World, many plots can be hatched based on wild rumours as to the health of the Emperor as he campaigns against the Storm of Chaos.

But not every power vacuum needs to involve the Emperor or nobles and generals. Crime lords are notorious for warring amongst themselves when their ... betters ... are laid to rest or, erm ... disappears. There are always room for backstabbing in the Guilds, the Merchant Guild being a prime candidate. But don't underestimate the petty power-hungry fishmonger, rat catcher, City Watchman or lowly stable boy. Even the worst tyrant has to start somewhere after all ...

Currrently in my own campaign, there is a riot running through Altdorf after news that the Emperor has been slain by traitorous generals allied with the forces of Chaos. This has provided some interesting twists to the lives of the characters, as well as given one of them an opportunity to prove his loyalty to the Emperor.

Whether this is a good idea remains to be seen.


Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Charlatans and tricksters

There are many magic fairy tales in this world, and none of them should be told lightly. Our old world contains mysteries beyond the understanding of our sharpest minds or most dim-witted fools. And so there are those who would profit from this. Profit from our fears and anxiety. Who would pretend to eradicate Chaos where no such taint occurs. To take our gold to rid us from evil, and save us from our waking dreams.

Most of these charlatans are adventurous types, armed with sharp blades and an array of tricks. They claim to fight evil, to battle Chaos and to do what is right in this world. In reality they only do what's right by themselves. Today most of these wretched beings have fortunately been enlisted to fight the Storm of Chaos, and will hopefully justly perish on a dirty and grimy battlefield in the cold north.

But there are some who are still at large and I can see them pass me by on the streets of Altdorf every day. Who knows what they are planning?

Adolphus Altdorfer
Konistag, Sigmarzeit 2, 2522 IC

Those of you who follow my other blog, Fanboy at Large, might have already read my short review of the movie The Brothers Grimm, which I watched a couple of days ago. If you haven't, nip by the site and do so, I'll wait here until you're done.


Already back? Good. Well, the point of this post is to make sure that all of you who play WFRP also watch this movie. For the scenery and visuals, if for nothing else. But also because I feel that the Grimm brothers and their companions really embody many of those qualities that make up a WFRP adventuring party. They look after themselves first and foremost, they are barely competent, they muck about with things they don't understand, they are beset by a torturer which would be perfectly cast as an unhinged witch hunter in any WFRP campaign ... the list goes on.

As a straight adventure or fantasy movie I feel that even though I like it, I can't recommend it without some pretty severe caveats.

But as an inspiration for WFRP game masters or players, I can't recommend it highly enough. Watch it as a source of inspiration for your games. You will find much in there that could make it into your game, or conversely you will find scenes that highlight what you don't want in your game.

So gather your gaming group and watch The Brothers Grimm together, and imagine it being a session of WFRP. That will make the viewing even more fun!


Saturday, 14 April 2007

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Help wanted (6)

"Strong men needed to enforce a debt! Ask for Thomas Fahber at the Merchants’ Guild. Percentage of debt recovered paid!"

- Post on the North Gate Dead Tree

Business in Altdorf can be brutal, and sometimes even honest people need to back up their claims with brute force. Then again, dishonest people will also need help, and probably more often. As for the downright criminal people ... well, the possibilities for adventure are endless. For who knows if the characters' employer is honest or dishonest?


Wednesday, 11 April 2007

FAL Review: Death in Freeport

Death in Freeport is one of the earliest and most highly acclaimed d20 adventures. It is designed to fit PCs of first to third level, and written to accommodate a game master who is just getting started with leading the game. The adventure is a slim 32 page volume, well written with a clear and useful structure. The layout is clear and the pictures of slightly above average quality. All in all it is the text that makes this offering exciting, not the aesthetics.

DiF is probably best known for the fact that it launched the Freeport setting, an exciting pirate city which had solid support from Green Ronin for many years. Five pages are devoted to a general description of the city and its history. The plot involves the PCs in a mysterious disappearance and a conspiracy involving The Yellow Sign. Everything starts when they are hired to find a person, and they are soon set upon by furious orcs (who probably have very good reasons to bear a grudge against the PCs) as well as suspicious cultists.

The structure of DiF is strongly reminiscent of the classic Call of Cthulhu format involving plenty of investigation and questioning of different people who often have something to hide, as well as a mythical background that could be taken from Lovecraft’s mythos. The adventure is the first part of a trilogy but can be played separately if you are so inclined. The plot continues to unfold in Terror in Freeport and Madness in Freeport and the value of DiF is considerably enhanced if played as part one of the series.

When we played DiF we couldn’t really get into the atmosphere. The plot is very Cthulhuesque but the players were expecting a more standard D&D fare. This resulted in a mismatch of expectations, and the players didn’t really get involved in the story. I think it paradoxically would have worked better for us if it had been a Call of Cthulhu adventure, but as long as a game master is better prepared for this than I was, things should work fine. The only other reservation I have is that as five pages of 32 are devoted to describing Freeport, the adventure in itself feels a bit short.

I recommend Death in Freeport primarily to beginning game masters playing d20 and those who are looking for a change of pace from the ordinary dungeon crawling in D&D.


Tuesday, 10 April 2007

The Estalian Coach

There are many stories and folk songs about life and death sung in the taverns of Altdorf. Many have erotic or horrific undertones, and many make fun of outrageously behaving nobles or clergy and a fumbling and incompetent City Watch.

But many also describe the world surrounding the Empire. Lately the renowned lute player and folk singer Christoph Von Kleinestadt has gained popularity performing his song "The Estalian Coach" at various venues in our capital. I have heard it many times during my outings to The Burning Table, and have taken the liberty of scribing the text to preserve it for those who come after me.

As my observant reader will notice, Von Kleinestadt brings together current events in Altdorf (see my short text on Heartless Jochen) as well as the sinister symbolics of Old World rural folk lore (The Great Jester mentioned in my writings on Gaspar und Gretchen makes an appearance). Wrapped up in this ditty is also a theological conundrum; is it possible that the gods are playing games with their followers, and that our very souls can be staked in a game of chance? Needless to say, the Church of Morr is not amused by the lyrics. Also note the use of the card game Pochen as a symbolic battle between the forces of Chaos and the Lord of Death.

There's an Estalian coach that runs between
Gualcasar and Bilbali.
In the dead of night the bugle blows,
And people hear,
she’s running still.

And then they hush their children back to sleep,
lock the doors, upstairs they creep.
For it is said that the souls of the dead,
fill that coach -
ten thousand deep!

Well a coaching man lay dying,
with his people by his side.
His family were crying,
knelt in prayer before he died.

But above his bed
just a-waiting for the dead,
was the Jester with a twinkle in his eye.
- Well Morr's not around,
and look what I've found,
This one's mine!

Just then the Lord of Death appeared
in a blinding flash of light.
And shouted at the Jester
- Get thee hence to endless night!

But the Jester just grinned,
and said, - I may have sinned,
but there’s no need to push me around.
- I got him first
so you can do your worst,
He's going underground!

- But I think I'll give you one more chance,
said the Jester with a smile.
- So throw away that stupid lance,
It’s really not your style.

- Jochen is the name, Pochen is the game,
we’ll play right here on his bed!
And then we'll bet for the bigger stakes yet;
The souls of the dead!

And I said,
- Look out, Lord, He’s gonna win,
The sun is down and the night's riding in.
That coach is dead on time,
many souls are on the line,
Oh, Lord he's gonna win!

Well the coaching man he cut the cards,
and he dealt them each a hand of five.
And for the Lord he was praying hard,
for that coach he'd have to drive…

Well, the Jester he had three aces and king.
And Morr, He was running for a straight.
He had the queen and the knave
and a nine and ten of spades,
All He needed was the eight…

And then Morr he called for one more card,
But He drew the diamond eight,
And the Jester said to the Lord of Death,
- I believe you’ve got it straight.

- So deal me one,
for the time has come to see
who'll be the king of this place.
But as he spoke, from beneath his cloak,
He slipped another ace…

Ten thousand souls was the opening bid,
Soon went up to fifty-nine.
But Morr did not see what the Jester did,
And said, - That suits me fine.
I’ll raise you high, to a hundred and five,
and forever put an end to your sins!

But the Jester let out a mighty shout,
- My hand wins!

And I said, - Lord, oh Lord, you've let him win,
The sun is down and the night is riding in.
That coach is dead on time,
many souls are on the line,
Oh Lord don't let him win…

Well that Estalian coach still runs between,
Gualcasar and Zaraguz,
In the dead of night the bugle blows,
and people fear,
she’s running still…

And far away in some recess,
Morr and the jester are now playing chess.
The jester still cheats and wins more souls,
And as for Lord Morr,
well, He’s just doing his best….

And I said,
- Lord, oh Lord, you’ve got to win,
The sun is down and the night is riding in.
That coach is still on time,
oh my soul is on the line...
Oh Lord, you’ve got to win…

Adolphus Altdorfer
Marktag, Pflugzeit 24, 2522 IC

According to Wikipedia, "Pochen" could be the root of the name for the card game we today know as "Poker".

With thanks and sincere apologies to Chris De Burgh, who wrote the song Spanish Train, upon which The Estalian Coach is based.


Sunday, 8 April 2007

Best of the fans (1)

One thing that has defined WFRP for a long time is the dedication of its fans. While WFRP was not supported by Games Workshop a strong tradition of creating additional material grew into a powerful force which created some of the best fan material I have ever seen. This helped keep the game relevant to the roleplaying public in a way that few other officially unsupported games manage. And with the emergence of the Internet, sharing this material became as simple as sending an e-mail to the WFRP Mailing List.

A lot has happened in the last few years. WFRPv2 has been released, and the WFRP Mailing List is as far as I know inactive. Instead the discussions about WFRP have moved to various discussion boards, such as Black Industries own official boards, or to RPGnet or other places. Some of those who were active in the past have decided to focus on other things, some carry on today, and quite a few new fans have joined the tradition of creating fan material for WFRP.

But strangely enough, even with the Internet and all, most of these fan publications go without notice from the large body of WFRP players. So I wanted to do my bit to help that situation improve. Even though my blog is only drawing about 50 readers each week (probably the same 50, bless you all), maybe I can help spread the word about what I consider to be the best fan material out there for WFRP! I won't focus on any one edition, as to me and my game they are so similar that any material is useful.

I'll simply pick what's best out there, and let you figure out which edition you want to use it for!

First out, taken from one of my favourite WFRP fan sites is Dave Graffam's Purity Seals and Prayer Ribbons (scroll down his page to find them). Taking inspiration from the scraps of paper carried by most of the people in the illustrations for WFRPv2, Dave has created ribbons and seals ready to be printed out and added to your character sheet. It adds immensely to the atmosphere around the table!

Dave also has a lot of other really good stuff on his site, and I promise I'll remind you of them at a later date. But hey, you don't have to wait for me to say that they rock! Download them now and find out for yourself.


Friday, 6 April 2007

Economics of the Ratchett Lines

I have now worked as a scribe at the Ratchett stables for several weeks. I find it immensely interesting as I often get a chance to speak to travellers going to and from our fair capital. It is also quite interesting to see how Gertrude Ratchett operates her coaching Empire, as I might call it. They transport people, of course, but also letters and special deliveries. I believe they have running contracts with some of the Merchant Houses of the Empire to act as a line of communication between important cities.

The Ratchett Stables seem to be a very serious business, certainly above the average quality found in other competing outfits of comparable size. The security they offer while on the road is fairly high, and Frau Ratchett has a well thought out contingency plan for horses becoming ill or dying, and five main coaching stations. There is quite a lot of administrative overhead, which is unusual for this kind of business, but I would be the last to complain as it gives me work and a steady wage. I also believe that the amount of paperwork put in by the formidable Frau Ratchett and her employees actually contributes to the relative success of the Ratchett line.

The Ratchett line only has four coaches. The main hub is in Altdorf, and the destinations are Middenheim, Nuln, Talabheim and Gisoreaux. Curiously Frau Ratchett has also aquired a station in all of the destinations. At each station there are spare horses (normally 4, but since more coaches use the Altdorf station, there are 20 horses here as well, so that the coaches can switch horses and quickly get back on the road). I was a bit overwhelmed at the amount of horses, but I soon learned that fresh and healthy horses is a vital ingredient in running a successful coaching line. Also, Frau Ratchett will rent out horses for use within the walls of Altdorf for short periods of time to raise additional income.

Each station has around the clock guards (2 at any give time), and the driver and coach guard are well trained and experienced. All guards and drivers have worked for the Ratchett Stables for a long time, and are tried and trusted, which is also a corner stone for the business. Frau Ratchett knows that her drivers will do their best, and she knows they won’t just dump any suspect cargo at first sight of an Imperial toll booth.

Adolphus Altdorfer
Nachexen 30, 2522 IC

Let’s look at the economics of a business like the one Adolphus describes above.

My calculations indicate that the cost of running the Ratchett Lines are around 26 000 Gold Crowns a year. This takes into account a reasonable level of safety for passengers, drivers and guards, as well as a reasonable administrative organisation to handle all the paperwork associated with the business. Most prices I based this on are pulled from OWA, except for items marked with a ”*”. All yearly prices are calculated using a 12 month year with 400 days.

I have assumed that a coach can travel 25 miles per day, and that the coaches are on the road 70% of the time.

This caluculation establishes the following price levels:

1 gc per 10 miles = 60% loss
3 gc per 10 miles = 25% profit
5 gc per 10 miles = 55% profit
7 gc per 10 miles = 200% profit

The OWA gives the price of 7 GC per 10 miles, but it is unclear as to whether this is for hiring one coach, or per passenger. When I did this calculation a year ago or so, I arrived at the conclusion that the price of 7 GC per 10 miles was for hiring an entire coach for yourself.

So the cost for one passenger would be around 1 gold crown and 10 shillings per 10 miles, or 3 shillings a mile, give or take a few pennies.

For those interested, I have broken down the costs associated with the Ratchett Lines.

Startup costs
Item / Cost per item in gc/ Quantity / Subtotal
Coaches / 500 / 4 / 2000
Horses / 25 / 36 / 900
Grooming kits / 5 / 36 / 180
Harness and special equipment / 2 / 32 / 64
Barding / 75 / 32 / 2400
Driver equipment (hand weapon, leather jack and cap, coach horn) / 35 / 4 / 140
Coach guard equipment (blunderbuss (x2), powder and shot, leather jack and cap) / 160 / 4 / 640
Coaching station in Altdorf / 2500 / 1 / 2500
Coaching station in Middenheim / 2000 / 1 / 2000
Coaching station in Nuln / 2000 / 1 / 2000
Coaching station in Talabheim / 2000 / 1 / 2000
Coaching station in Gisoreaux / 2500 / 1 / 2500
Station guard equipment (hand weapon, leather jack and cap, bell) / 30 / 30 / 900

Initial investment: 18224 gold crowns

Running costs (per year)
Item / Cost per item in gc per day / Quantity for the whole year / Subtotal
Horse fodder / 0,020833333 / 14400 / 300
*Horse shoeing and fitting / 1,125 / 36 / 40,5
Horse medicine / 117 / 1 / 117
Driver salaries (including double pay for risky work) / 234 / 4 / 936
*Driver training / 15 / 4 / 60
Coach guards salaries (including double pay for risky work) / 234 / 4 / 936
*Coach guard training / 15 / 4 / 60
Coaching stations (upkeep) / 150 / 5 / 750
1 senior clerk at each station / 117 / 5 / 585
2 junior clerks working at each station / 26 / 10 / 260
6 guards at each station (3-shift) / 78 / 30 / 2340
4 stable boys at each station / 15 / 20 / 300
Writing kits / 10 / 60 / 600
Paper (bookkeeping) / 0,25 / 4000 / 1000
*Posters (advertising) / 0,4 / 1000 / 400
*Medical expenses for drivers and coach guards / 50 / 8 / 400
Pensions for widows and orphans / 100 / 1 / 100
*License / 150 / 5 / 750
Mortgage and interest (5 year loan at 25%) / 4556 / 1 / 4556
Extraordinary expenses (10% of cost) / 1449,05 / 1 / 1449,05

Efficiency (per year)
Miles travelled per coach (with 30% downtime) 7000

Running costs with four passengers (per coach per mile)
Item / Cost per item in gc per mile / Subtotal
Tolls and fees / 0,056 / 0,056
Coaching inn for passengers (lodging, breakfast, lunch and dinner) / 0,1 / 0,1
Stabling (four horses) / 0,006666667 / 0,006666667
Coach upkeep / 0,05 / 0,05

Bribes and taxes
Twenty percent of real costs / 4378,843333 /

Running total: 26273,06 gc


Wednesday, 4 April 2007

FAL Review: Explorer's Handbook

Publisher Wizards of the Coast. Released August 2005. Format Hardcover. Game system Dungeons & Dragons. Setting Eberron. Pages 160. Price $29.95.

Designers David Noonan, Rich Burlew, Frank Brunner. Cover artist Wayne Reynolds.

Sometimes a book is released that helps define a setting. When your read it you go “ah, now I understand!”. Explorer’s Handbook for D&D is one of those books. I like Eberron, I like the sources for inspiration and I like the rules system. Still it has been difficult for me to know what I was supposed to do with it all. When playing, it felt more like just ordinary D&D, without the spices that supposedly makes Eberron special. This uncertainty was laid to rest with this book.

Explorer’s Handbook’s focus is exploration, how to do it and where to do it. Leave Sharn and discover the world, board the ligtning train and leave the civilised countries behind; the Eberron atmosphere is taking shape, and it feels like Raiders of the Lost Ark! Only with swords and sorcery, of course. First out is a discussion about why and how you travel and how long it takes. After that comes equipment, organisations, expeditions and prestige classes. You also find maps showing several different vehicles, like airships, storm ships and lightning rail trains. The PCs kan be members of the organisations described and adventure hooks for this are detailed as well. This is followed by sections on places where the PCs journey can start, stops on the way and final destinations. You are given examples you can use straight out of the book, maps, NPCs and adventure hooks. To spice things up the writers also include short comments on specific details of the Eberron setting.

The contents of this book is aimed at the Dungeon Master. The style of writing shows more attitude than the more standard D&D fare, which I find somewhat boring in the generic books. Sometimes this feels awkward but most of the times it works well and makes reading the text an enjoyment. Most of the contents in the Explorer’s Handbook is specific for Eberron but since the places described are unknown to most people on Eberron, including the PCs, they can easily be transferred to another campaign setting.

If you are a Dungeon Master who is thinking about what to do with Eberron will get lots of ideas and examples of how to create new adventures with that pulp feeling Eberron has as a signature trait from this book.


Proclamation (1)

"Hear! Hear! Let it be known that due to unknown and unforseen circumstances regarding the capital's sewers, temporary conditions have given rise to a dramatic increase in the number of rats in Altdorf. Remember the bounty on rats, 3p per tail over a foot, 1p for the rest! And don't forget to get a cat!"

- Heard from town crier at the Talabecplatz, Werksviertel Bezirk

Not surprisingly the rat problem is labled by the authorities as a temporary problem, but the truth is that it is a larger threat than that. The population of Altdorf is swelling from day to day, even though many refugees are not allowed entry to the city. The new comers are often quite poor, don't have a permanent place to stay, and are weak from the hardships endured during their flight from the Storm of Chaos. Add to this that the sewer system is often rudimentary at best, and non-existent at worst. Much of the filth generated by the population is deposited in the gutters, to be carried away by gong farmers or by rain.

This combines to create a situatione which is beneficial to the rats, and they multiply in large numbers. And with this legion of rats in the sewers comes the threat of mutation among the rats, producing even more bizarre strains and threats to the city's beleaguered poor.


Monday, 2 April 2007

Gaspar und Gretchen


A new form of entertainment has reached Altdorf; a hand puppet or marionette theatre featuring the characters of Gaspar and his wife Gretchen as well as a menagerie of supporting figures. I believe that it traces its origins back to Tilea, although the name Gaspar surely originates from Kislev. For sure, the characters are as colourful as any Tilean and they dress and behave just as outrageously. My theory is that the show reached Kislev before Altdorf, and that is why the main character is called Gaspar. There some who claim that the puppets and the story they play out is a creation of Chaos, a lure to gain access to the minds of the children ... and if what I have observed at the secret screenings is true, the adults as well. For each and every person who attends this Gaspar und Gretchen puppet show is enthralled by the spectacle. Given a theory of involvement by the powers of Chaos, the show might have migrated from the Chaos Wastes to Kislev and then further into the Empire and down to Tilea.

The theatre is performed by a "Professor" sitting in a box or a booth equipped with a small stage. He uses puppets or marionettes and the play itself is a string of short episodes each depicting an interaction between two of the characters of the cast. Most often it is the rascal Gaspar together with one of his numerous victims that grace the stage. Gaspar is a symbol of The Great Jester of Old World folklore, and accordingly dresses as a jester in a colourful suit with bells on his hat. He has an enormous hooked nose that curves so as to almost meet his chin. It is almost a beak more than a nose. The puppet is armed with a stick as large as he himself is tall, and he finds great pleasure in using this to rain violence on the other characters of the play. His voice is a squawk, a distinctive and grating noise. This effect is achieved by the Professor using a contraption of weed and wood in his mouth while speaking.

Gaspar und Gretchen

The story varies somewhat between Professors, but the recurring theme is the same; Gaspar behaving totally irresponsible, fighting his wife Gretchen and dealing with their baby in the most outrageous ways imaginable. The cast also consists of a goblin, a hangman, a City Watchman and a powerful Chaos demon named Gideon. Another constant is Gaspar's punchline "That's the way to do it"! Gaspar triumphs in a series of encounters with the law but also with the forces of Chaos. The Goblin is a humorous aside, but the final scene is a showdown between Gaspar and Gideon, where the jester ultimately triumphs, exclaiming "Huzzah! Huzzah! I've killed the Demon"! Everything is shockingly humorous and performed with great comedic impact, intended to provoke laughter and shocked amusement.

Gaspar und Gideon

So is this Chaos trying to win another foothold in our beleaguered capital? If so it can only be Tzeentch, the Changer of Ways, who advocates such anarchy and wanton behaviour as that displayed by the puppets. And who is The Great Jester if not Tzeentch himself? But then again at the end of the play Gaspar defeats Gideon, a powerful Chaos Demon so maybe this is a show about how to defeat Chaos with Chaos. An intriguing tale for sure. I have no doubt that the Witch Hunters will try to put a stop to the puppet shows by burning every booth and Professor they find. They wait only for our Emperor to sign the suggested law banning these spectacles from performing in the Empire. But given the preponderance of nobles and artistocrats at the shows I have attended, I'm sure that Gaspar is safe for now. I'm not so sure that we are.

Adolphus Altdorfer
Nachexen 25, 2522

Of course, Gaspar und Gretchen is based on the adventures of Punch and Judy. The illustrations are by caracturist George Cruickshank and appeared in The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Punch and Judy in 1828.

The possibilities for adventures involving Gaspar und Gretchen are endless. Is the show a conspiracy? Or is it harmless entertainment? Does it hide something sinister and forbidding, or is it a warning to The Empire about the coming of Chaos? And who are the Professors and where do they come from? And last but not least, what if the characters would encounter Gaspar und Gretchen in real life? The horror! The horror!